British group CDC to invest $ 320 million in ports

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One of the key discussions ahead of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit is whether China is moving away from funding large-scale infrastructure projects like roads and ports.

It was therefore particularly interesting to see the announcement this week of a new massive investment in African ports by… the United Kingdom. The country’s development investment group, CDC Group, announced the the biggest investment in its 73-year history, in port facilities in Africa. Its initial investment of $ 320 million will finance the expansion of three ports: Dakar, Senegal [also where FOCAC is taking place], Sokhna on the Egyptian Red Sea coast and Berbera in the self-proclaimed state of Somaliland. An additional $ 400 million will be spent on future dry ports and logistics operations.

The details of the joint venture are revealing. CDC Group’s investment will be bolstered by $ 1 billion from Dubai Ports World (DPW). Those who have followed Africa-China relations for a while will remember the DPW ongoing legal battle with the government of Djibouti.

DPW is seeking $ 210 million in damages after Djibouti ended its control of the Doraleh container terminal, in favor of China Merchants Ports Holdings. The feud ensued soon after China’s first overseas naval base was built, right next to Doraleh. This, and Doraleh’s China-funded expansion from a commercial port to a multi-purpose port that can also accommodate military ships, sparked howls of outrage from the US military, including Camp Lemonnier n ‘ is only a few kilometers away.

DPW took its fight to the International Court of Arbitration in London, which awarded it a victory – a victory that was quickly ignored by the government of Djibouti. Legal action continues, but the port of Djibouti is not suffering. It saw a 30% increase in traffic in 2020, even as global shipping was slowed at a frantic pace by the pandemic.

Goods from landlocked production centers in neighboring Ethiopia are a significant part of this activity, and DPW’s investment in Berbera, neighboring Somaliland, is aimed directly at Djibouti’s share. Ethiopia’s role here is more than commercial. He has long acted as a champion of Somaliland and is a minority partner with DPW and the Somaliland government in a previous expansion project. Egypt, fearing Ethiopian hegemony, countered the independence of Somaliland, which makes the presence of the Sokhna project in the new joint venture between DPW and the British group CDC intriguing.

Even more intriguing are Somaliland’s ongoing flirtations with Taiwan, which opened a representative office in Hargeisa last year. This drew criticism from Somalia, which opposes Somaliland’s independence. It also pushed Chinese government spokesman Zhao Lijian into an entirely biblical fashion, promising that those who defy the one-China principle “will burn themselves and swallow the bitter fruit.”

Thus, the decision of the CDC group to invest in small Somaliland does not only coincide with DPW’s desire to stick to Djibouti. He also probably tremendous support in our new cold war climate.

As for the UK’s own role, it is fascinating that this announcement came in the same week that French President Emmanuel Macron willingly listened to young Africans from France’s colonial history. This is because the CDC group was known by its full name – the Colonial Development Corporation, when Somaliland was a British protectorate.

As with the rebranding of the CDC group from colonizer to ‘the world’s premier development finance institution’, I had to wonder if the investment was motivated by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s old lament: ‘The problem isn’t. is not that we were once in charge, but that we are no longer in charge.

This article was published in partnership with The China-Africa Project.


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